April 21, 2022

The Loch Ness Photograph

The Loch Ness Photograph

April 21, 1934. The Daily Mail publishes an alleged photo of the Loch Ness Monster, sparking an international sensation around one of the world’s most enduring modern legends.


Cold Open

It’s April 14th, 1933 in the Scottish Highlands near the town of Inverness.

Aldie Mackay sits in the passenger seat as her husband drives along a quiet country road.

Aldie rolls down the window to let in the afternoon breeze, poking her head out to look at the dark water of the lake next to them.

She begins to turn her head back to the road, but something catches her eye: a mysterious movement on the lake.

Aldie looks across the water which has been completely still just seconds ago. Now, she watches as it churns. She traces the waves back to their source and lets out a gasp.

Aldie cries for her husband to stop the car.

As the car screeches to a halt, Aldie shouts for him to look at the lake. And with a shaking hand, Aldie points to a shape rising out of the lake’s depths. Aldie’s stomach sinks as she watches an enormous, black, whale-like creature emerging from the water and then crashing back down below. 

Aldie watches as waves big enough to have been caused by a steamship reverberate through the lake, before disappearing in a mass of foam.

Aldie and her husband stare in shock as the lake grows still once more. They wait on the roadside for half an hour, but the creature never reappears.

Aldie’s account of these events will soon be published by the Inverness Courier. Her story of a monster lurking in the depths of Loch Ness will send reporters and sightseers flocking to the lake in hopes of spotting the infamous Loch Ness Monster for themselves. And as sightings continue, the legend of Loch Ness will continue to grow. But evidence of the creature’s existence will be scarce. Until, the newspaper, The Daily Mail,sparks an international sensation when it publishes an alleged photo of the Loch Ness monster on April 21st, 1934.


From Noiser and Airship, I’m Lindsay Graham and this is History Daily.

History is made every day. On this podcast—every day—we tell the true stories of the people and events that shaped our world. 

Today is April 21st, 1934: The Loch Ness Photograph.

Act One: The Birth of a Modern Legend

It’s the afternoon of July 22nd, 1933 near Loch Ness; three months after Aldie Mackay’s alleged sighting of a monster in the lake. 

A gentleman named George Spicer hums a tune as he drives down a hill toward Loch Ness, his wife in the passenger seat next to him. George turns on the road that runs alongside the lake, ready to begin the long drive back to their home in London.

Between the trees, George catches glimpses of the glistening surface of Loch Ness. Staring at the inky water, George briefly wonders if the rumors around town of a mysterious monster are true.

Though Aldie Mackay's account of a creature sent shockwaves through the community, she was not the first to allege that a monster lurked in Loch Ness. Stories of a mysterious aquatic animal in the loch are rooted in Scottish folklore, with accounts dating back over a thousand years. But, Aldie’s story reignited local fascination with the lake.

But, today, mythical monsters feel like an outlandish notion to George. Loch Ness is just another beautiful Scottish lake to be enjoyed on a scenic drive during summer weather. But, an exclamation from his wife interrupts his reverie: “George, what on earth is that?”

George turns his eyes back to the road. In the distance, George can make out a large gray lump stretching across the entire width of the road. He squints harder, and as he gets closer to the mysterious object, he realizes it’s not an object at all.

George slams on the brakes, his eyes glued on an animal taking in its long, thin neck, and enormous limbless body. George watches as the creature jerks left and right, sliding across the road toward the lake. In a matter of seconds, the creature arrives at the water’s edge. And George stares as the animal descends into the lake and out of sight.

On August 4th, 1933, George Spicer’s account will be published by theInverness Courier, and soon picked up by major papers throughout the country. Spicer’s story of a prehistoric “abomination with a three-arched neck and a body four feet high” will spark a new level of public interest in the mysterious Loch Ness monster. London newspapers will send correspondents to the lake; updates on the latest news from Loch Ness will frequently interrupt radio programs.

And soon, boats will fill the lake with outdoorsmen and boy scouts scouring the depths; deck chairs will adorn the lake’s shores as sightseers wait for the monster to reappear; traffic jams will fill the roadways; a circus will even put up a reward for the beast’s capture. But all evidence of a monster will remain anecdotal.


It's December 1933, four months after George Spicer’s monster sighting. Marmaduke Wetherell paces across the lake’s rocky shore, intently looking out over the water and inspecting the ground beneath him for any evidence of the fabled Loch Ness monster.

In recent weeks, excitement over the beast has reached a fever pitch. Eager to capitalize on the moment, the Daily Mail commissioned Wetherell, a well-known actor and big-game hunter, to track down the creature. For the past several days, Wetherell has been at Loch Ness, hunting for any evidence of the beast’s existence. So far, he’s come up empty-handed. But, today, Wetherell hopes that will change.

Wetherell ventures farther from the water’s edge, walking toward the grassy banks. As he does, something catches his eye. Just a few yards from where he stands, Wetherell sees an indentation in the ground.

Wetherell approaches the strange pattern, careful not to step on what looks like a series of animal prints. Wetherell’s heart soars as he inspects them closer. To his experienced eye, the prints appear big enough to have come from a very powerful, soft-footed animal 20 feet long. Wetherell follows the prints that lead him right to the water. He smiles, knowing that this is the evidence he's been looking for. 

Wetherell rushes to find a phone and reports his discovery to the Daily Mail which publishes Wetherell’s report with a headline reading, “Monster of Loch Ness Is Not Legend But A Fact.”

Wetherell claims the prints are fool-proof evidence of the Loch Ness Monster’s existence. But, at the Daily Mail’s request, Wetherell agrees to send casts of the footprints to London’s Natural History Museum for analysis.

Wetherell waits in anticipation for the museum’s conclusion. But, when the results come in, Wetherell is devastated. The prints he so meticulously casted belonged to a hippopotamus. Obviously, Wetherell knows there’s no hippo living in the loch. It’s clear someone is pulling a prank. And indeed, the prints were man-made; likely by a hippo foot converted into an umbrella stand or ashtray; a popular taxidermy choice of the day.

Against Wetherell’s wishes, the Daily Mailwill publish the museum’s findings, turning Wetherell into a subject of ridicule. And his misidentification will sully the investigation of the Loch Ness Monster. Sightings will be viewed with skepticism and quickly dismissed as hoaxes or optical illusions. Before long, Wetherell will return to London in disgrace. And utterly humiliated, he will retreat from public view. But Wetherell won’t give up his search for a Loch Ness Monster. Instead, he will hatch a new plan and put into motion a plot to prove the existence of the Loch Ness Monster once and for all.

Act Two: Wetherell’s Revenge

It’s April 1934 in London, four months after the Daily Mail published the results of Wetherell’s embarrassing mixup.

Inside his living room, Wetherell and his two sons huddle around a toy submarine. But they’re not playing a game. They’re plotting the best way to make this toy look like the Loch Ness Monster in a staged photograph.

Wetherell stares at the small toy and smiles, reveling in the absurdity of his plan and the thrill of possible revenge.

The hippo foot fiasco left an indelible stain upon Wetherell’s reputation as a big-game hunter. After the Daily Mail published his embarrassing mistake, Wetherell’s resentment toward the publication grew into a thirst for revenge. Now, the time has come for Wetherell to exact it.

Wetherell watches as his son Ian begins layering wood over the toy submarine’s tower. Slowly, Wetherell recognizes the shape of a neck beginning to take form. Wetherell nods approvingly, before helping his stepson Christian attach strips of lead to the submarine’s base. Wetherell finds a paintbrush and opens a can of gray paint, ready to put the finishing touches on their creation.

Wetherell stands back to examine their handiwork and smiles at their 12-inch tall model of the fabled Loch Ness Monster. Wetherell turns to his sons and sneers, “They want a monster? We’ll give them their monster.”

Soon, Wetherell returns to Loch Ness with his son Ian and their newly-crafted creature. He finds a quiet bay and then lays the makeshift monster on its surface, making sure to include the scenery of Loch Ness in the background.

Satisfied with its position, Wetherell sets up a camera and snaps a photo of the monster. Wetherell prepares to take another photo, but the sound of nearby footsteps deters him. Quickly, Wetherell sinks his model into the water and rushes back to his car.

As he drives back to London, Wetherell ponders how to get his photo developed and out onto the front page of the Daily Mail. He knows he can’t do it himself, not after the hippo foot fiasco; he needs someone else, someone respectable and credible.


It’s the morning of April 21st, 1934 at the Daily Mail’s headquarters in London.

At his desk, a reporter inspects the front page of the day’s paper. Taking up most of the page is an image of a long, serpent-like neck jutting out of the water of a lake, underneath a headline that screams, “London Surgeon’s Photo of the Monster.” The reporter smiles, knowing sales will be good today.

The photo came to the Daily Mail from Doctor Robert Wilson, a highly respected London surgeon. Wilson claimed to have been driving along the northern shore of Loch Ness when he spotted something moving in the water. With a camera luckily on hand, Wilson stopped his car to snap a photo of the mysterious animal.

The reporter picks up the paper again, closely inspecting the dark silhouette of the mysterious creature. He knows this photo corroborates the description of the monster given by many alleged witnesses over the years. But, after the hippo foot incident, doubt still lingers in his head.

Still, the reporter knows they did their due diligence early this time. The Daily Mailalready had Scottish experts examine the photograph yesterday. None believed the creature to be any marine animal or fish known to inhabit British waters. In fact, they couldn’t even hazard a guess as to what the animal could be. Plus, Dr. Wilson, a respected surgeon, hardly seems like a man to be party to some elaborate hoax.

Still, the reporter does not the answer to the question in the story’s subheading, “Does Monster Really Exist?”. 

For many, the Surgeon’s Photograph, as it will come to be known, is irrefutable evidence of the Loch Ness Monster’s existence. The photo will even launch the popular theory that the creature in Loch Ness is actually a plesiosaur, a prehistoric marine reptile that has been extinct for over 65 million years. And for decades, the photo will be considered the best evidence of the Loch Ness Monster. But then, in 1994, 60 years after the photo’s first publication, a man named Alastair Boyd will unveil the truth, revealing the photograph as nothing more than another hoax.

Act Three: Spurling’s Confession

It’s 1993 in Essex county, almost 60 years after the Daily Mail first published the Surgeon’s Photograph.

On the couch in his living room, Alastair Boyd sits and examines an old newspaper clipping. Boyd begins to read the article, a little-known 1975 interview with Marmaduke Wetherell’s son, Ian. Soon, Boyd pauses in disbelief as he reads Ian’s claim that the iconic Surgeon’s Photograph was simply part of an elaborate plot to dupe the Daily Mail.

Boyd is a retired art teacher but has researched Loch Ness ever since he spotted a large animal in the lake fifteen years ago. For years, Boyd has sought evidence to corroborate what he thinks he saw that day. And, for years, the Surgeon’s Photograph was the most convincing evidence that Boyd and others were not just imagining things.

Though Ian’s interview rebutting the validity of the photograph was released almost two decades prior, the article never gained much traction. But, as Boyd reads and rereads Ian Wetherell’s claims, he’s struck by the feeling that the media missed a major story; that the famous photograph may indeed be fraudulent.

Boyd decides to investigate further. Ian Wetherell is deceased, so Boyd tracks down Ian’s stepbrother, Christian Spurling, and drives down to the south of England to meet him.

Now 93 years old and near death, Christian confesses his stepdad’s elaborate ploy to get revenge on theDaily Mail.And during their interview, Boyd makes one more discovery, a suspicious Wetherell family heirloom: an ashtray with a stuffed hippo foot at its base. 

Whether Marmaduke Wetherell made the prints at Loch Ness himself is unclear. But, a few months after meeting with Christian Spurling, Boyd will reveal to the media that the Surgeon’s Photograph was a hoax. But, far from becoming one of the legend’s biggest detractors, Alastair Boyd will remain a stalwart supporter of the existence of the Loch Ness Monster. And he will not be alone in his conviction.

Marmaduke Wetherell’s deception will not spell the end for the legend of the Loch Ness Monster. Mythology of the monster as well as the hunt for its existence will endure; captivating audiences long after the Daily Mailfirst captured the world’s attention with its infamous photograph, published on April 21st, 1934.


Next on History Daily. April 22nd, 1970. Millions of Americans celebrate the nation’s first Earth Day, launching a grassroots movement that transforms environmental protection laws in America.

From Noiser and Airship, this is History Daily, hosted, edited, and executive produced by me, Lindsay Graham.

Audio editing and sound design by Mollie Baack. 

Music by Lindsay Graham.

This episode is written and researched by Alexandra Currie-Buckner.

Executive Producers are Steven Walters for Airship, and Pascal Hughes for Noiser.